Housing Partnership sponsors homelessness awareness project

MARSHALL — The Southwest Minnesota Housing Partnership wants to shed additional light on homelessness in greater Minnesota with help from PlaceBase Productions.

A fictional performance that depicts homeless residents is planned this summer. To gather firsthand information that will be used to develop a plot for the production, public meetings are taking place this month in Marshall, Willmar and Worthington.

The Marshall sessions are planned for Wednesday at 10 a.m. at the Marshall Lyon County Library and 3 p.m. at United Community Action Partnership.

The meetings are open to anyone who is currently homeless, has been homeless in the past, or wants to learn more about homelessness issues. People with experiences to share also have the option of submitting comments to the Southwest Minnesota Housing Partnership online.

“The performance won’t be biographical,” said project manager Ashley Hanson of PlaceBase Productions. “We’ll be taking information from different personal accounts that will be combined into a fictional story. The personal accounts will help to guarantee a finished product that reflects what’s happening in the region.”

Hanson has a Master of Arts degree from the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom. She proposed the homeless awareness concept as part of her work as SMHP’s artist in residence.

The cast will include performers from the Zamya Theater company based in the Twin Cities. Residents from area counties are also encouraged to participate. The total number of cast members is flexible based on the amount of public interest.

Information gathered from the public this winter will be reviewed in the spring with help from social service professionals who work directly with the homeless. A script will then be created to allow enough time for rehearsals prior to midsummer performance dates.

“We’ll come up with a final product with details that go beyond what the public usually hears,” Hanson said. “We’ve already seen that homelessness is more hidden in rural areas because there aren’t any large homeless shelters. In many ways it’s an invisible challenge with gaps in how much people can be served. Hopefully what we do will lead to new ideas for how to create affordable housing.”

Southwest Minnesota Continuum of Care coordinator Justin Vorbach, who contracts with SMHP, said homeless residents often blend in with daily life in rural counties well enough so that their housing issues stay hidden from the general public.

Many of them make due with temporary living arrangements until a long term option is available.

“It’s very rare to find someone living under a bridge, in a car, or in a storage unit,” Vorbach said. “They might not look homeless, but they’re out there. They’re often between jobs or faced with unforseen expenses.”

He said that Willmar has a shelter opportunity through a facility that also provides safe housing for domestic violence victims. In Marshall, UCAP has a program called The Refuge which provides a temporary motel room voucher.

He sees the 2019 research and upcoming public performances as an avenue for portraying a personal side to the homelessness experience.

“It will become an educational opportunity for legislators, other public officials and the general public,” Vorbach said. “We’ll go beyond statistics. The personal stories will give life to what homeless residents face.”